{On the occasion of the death of my father, December 3, 2017}

It was 79 degrees when I was born,
sunny, there was wind, monarch
butterflies frantically migrated the
5,000 miles from Canada to Mexico,
I loved being a Black girl back then,

at the beginning, Daddy lifted me
up after school, his baby blue
Electra 225 pointing to our place,
lost land of black swans with wide
Negro red lips, balding cypress

tupelo gums in drag, pushing
showy out of shiny black water,
before the coming of shapely legs
and bright-eyed breasts, before
knowing I was hunted, he would

open the back door of the Buick,
climb in, I would lie back, all the
way flat, position Y, just beneath
the long back window curling in,
cupola and nib, new hips secure,

thin black line of my long Black
girl body poured into a warm
crystal pan, in place, my arms
ready at my side, my longest toes
reach-tipping into the overhead,

spread Black girl eagle in the long
back capsule of the super silver
Deuce-and-a-Quarter, with fender
skirts, he would shift it down,
a slow creep, a whitewall skulk,

through the former land of ivory-
billed woodpeckers, as close to
the shiny black swamp as we could
crawl, our one car parade snail
inching, the red ticking mud alive,

my eyes fashioned into jeweled
periscopes, floating high above
lilac Japanese irises, towering
canopies of biscuit magnolia,
silently watching for the arrival,

the most golden mortise of
after afternoon sunlight, Such
are the vicissitudes of life, my girl
fingers tracing the glass of here,
past there, in between green-blue

waves, along the warm curve of
the long tempered see-through,
we had left the flood plains, enter
warbler & birds of prey, second
birth, my eyes kept interest &

invitation, while he kept watch
on the black swans squawk-
waddling into their nests near
bustle skirts of thirsty gay tupelos,
their fountainheads of Spanish

hair, keeping time, lost, floating,
his minutiae-by-minute report,
the S-curved line of dusky swans,
now fighting, now resting, with
swamp wide Negro red lips,

the bird is in your hands, he'd report,
I'd swallow, the sliding darkly-
skinned encyclopedia of steel
pressing forward like the page,
ruffle formation, right then left,

the rising hot balloon of my own
nibbling mind, his only girl, supine
& flat in Black girl flat space,
before the U.N. Peacekeepers
arrived on tiptoe, wasting no time

in pulling me out, feet first, to
lay me on their ground, 6,922
miles back across the aging sea,
where my arms were tied above
my head to the small waist of

a rubber tree, where their wild
dogs sniffed then parted my legs
with their wet snouts, straddled
and poked until they, at long last,
shook then vaporized back into

the quiet woods, hornlike Peace
keepers with their useless ring
of keys, their hands plunged &
MJ'ed between the khaki thighs
of their peacekeeping uniforms,

there & then, the time of loving
to be a Black girl, Mama hummed
while oiling my hair at night, before
sleep in the twin bed, in the shoe
box bedroom, with the crouching

window that opened to the knotty
loveseat arms of a chinaberry,
where we lived in the tiny Mother
of Pearl house on West Oakland
Avenue, where one giant fuchsia

and one giant eggplant azalea
preened each year into the dawn
of Easter, twin boutonnieres
pinned to the grassy lapel of our
tiny front yard across from the

park, where girls like me sucked
Pixy Stixs and hula hooped on
one end of the basketball court,
where boys like me ate Atomic
Fireballs, hooping and hollering

on the other, including Ludie
Mae, her one hand, day in, day
out, tiddy tight inside her left
hand catcher's mitt, Ludie Mae,
who wanted more than a girl's

life, who played hard, hardest,
harder with the boys, twice as
better and one-half a boy her
self at all the games the whole
boys whipped the whole girls at,

her mother with her three jobs
and eight days a week darkly punch
card eyes, cared, but not enough
to stop the freight-train homerun-
slide of her fifth daughter's slew

footed feet into first base, us whole
girls bored Ludie Mae but still we
made her fingers wet inside her
Sunday glove if we stood too close,
Ludie Mae wanted crackerjacks
across the pitcher's mound, quick
fly zippers on every pocket, lift
off, her liquid good luck: the dab
of her old man's Old Spice behind
her ears for a future World Series,

I wanted tupelos to open their
legs, wind to lift their candy-color
skirts up over their heads, shards
of spangling light to twist, dance
down on me, birth, delivery, safe

passage to the other side, my Black
girl prism, above the land of black
swans whose wings, from the first,
had already been cut, a Black girl
spread eagle, Y, because flat on my

back made the plane lift, rise high
through the swaying dense hard
woods, one long-legged window,
the first land rover, a 1969 maroon
Buick 225, it was 99, 89, 69,

79 degrees when I was born, sun
drenched, not yet hot as old old
fashioned love, Daddy loved to say,
his brown tobacco face wry with
half a hambone-Smithfield smile,

he having just said the most juke
joint thing he would ever say, there
was wind, golden monarchs flew
the 5,000 miles, their gauzy wings
parachute wide, their airish zeal for

international time zones not the
great news back then, canons of
silver water pounding the shiny
bicycle-hard thighs of Black boys
into the curb, the patent leather

feet of their sisters being lifted
off manicured lawns; the news,
butterflies were orange and black
flying machines, I loved being
a Black girl on her back from the

very start, when Daddy drove me
through his land of landlocked,
thick-lipped, black swans, creased
as a Freedom Rider's bus prayer
inside the Buick's great bay, while

every brown-headed thrasher &
chickadee, made motion to me,
first warbled then moseyed up
my sleeve, to hibernate through
my Black girl winters, before legs

and breasts, before the arrival of
whispers, of being hunchbacked
& hunted, marked, I loved being
a Black girl but had not yet learned
to play dead, had not yet been

emptied out my school desk onto
the learning floor, Peacekeeper
punishment for staring into the
cobalt eyes of my phone, instead
of answering his question, he holds

me half in the air, half in the wall,
I stare at my frozen in place class
mates, I wonder if my mother is
dead and who will brush my hair
when I finally hit the ground?

I loved being a Black girl before
I knew the dangers, preferring to
stare up through custom made
glass, private monocle of Black
girl speculative thinking, I had not

yet walked to a stranger's door,
my dead battery of a car waiting
behind me, my human knock
for help, not yet met by a double
barrel shotgun blast to the face,

I still have time to say that I love
being a Black girl but it is too
soon to say that it will always be
this way, I have yet to be given
my number, one of the 64,000

Black girls missing in America,
no panel of experts is looking for
me, warm oil still waits on the tips
of Mama's long elevator girl fingers,
she says I should still love being

a Black girl, she is the Black-girl-
looking-through-the-trees reason
that I love being a Black girl, she
says the mind of a Black girl is
a good mind to see through,

my oblong starry stare, through
floral glass, chin up, through
the higher-up light-soaked trees,
she should know, when we still
lived together, belly to belly, after

the two-door black Valiant shape
shifted into the moss green deuce-
and-a-quarter, in the seashell sandy
driveway across from Ludie Mae's
homerun haven national park, just

before I was faced-out to the world
and no longer faced-in to Mama,
the Falcon heavy wing doors
lifted slowly to let us step out, into
the waiting firing squads, her eyes
had that look, "When you were
born," she'd say to the soap in
the kitchen or her paint-by-numbers
set in the den, "It was 79 degrees,
not a cloud in the sky, blustery,

castor oil and calamine was still
thick as old fashion love, there
was full sun and your Daddy
named you Lovechild to be sure
you would remember to search

the canopies, every night before
bed, he would stand outside your
window, soap bucket in one hand,
first dollar ever made in the other,
washing the long window at the

back of the colored Buick waiting
in the driveway, polishing the see-
through until it squeaked, the tip
of his Salem 100 glowing out
like the tail of a wildcat comet,

staring hard into the spotless glass,
I would wonder if it would ever
be clean enough for him, to leave
for you, so you could be sure to
find your way into the world that

he left you up your sleeve," I was
born reclined, on my Black girl
back wondering if the monarchs
would return to drench the trees,
their bodies, all twitch, twirl, and

tambourine, refusing to give up
on their next line, I spend nights
twisting microphone wire into my
hair, at dawn the surgical team will
arrive to pull me out of the back

window, feet first, place me on
their history table with wheels,
I won't be able to see their faces
but they will be able to see mine,
the long open Black girl mouths

of my twin billowing bird-sleeve
house will be sewn shut, they will
instruct, count backwards, until I can't
find my way back to Daddy's red-
lipped swans, they will have their

tanning bed tools and I will have
mine, wheeling me into their do-
no-harm galaxy, secretly applying
their harm, legally cutting me open,
mischievously pitching their circus

tents, barking into the 400-year-
old shimmy-shimmy black star
light of my Black girl body, lone,
on their epistemological table,
belted in by snickering surgeons

wearing ivory hippopotamus
masks, holding scalpels, making
their rounds of my extended hair,
my wide owl-eye belly button,
my prolonged hips, elongated lips,

their penile proffered laughter
hovering the waves of white
sheets, my tiny hidden Black girl
wires catching it all on tape, ready
for the nightly news report,

the current data concerning the
horizontal state of Black people,
I loved being a Black girl back
then, Black girls could lie flat on
our backs, no Everest climbing

on top of us, under a blown glass
sky, resplendent with the breath
of the last ivory-billed woodpeckers
feathering across our faces, the
yaw & hum of dark-eyed juncos,

one tangerine goldfinch, three
squash-colored songbirds released
into the Black girl air, The bird is in
your hands, Daddy said, How you live
your life can be the child you never had,

when I was born it was 79 degrees
outside, windy, a baby blue sky was
filled with the beating of orange &
black wings, the Nailhead V8 in
Daddy's black and gold Electra was running.

Nikky Finney was born by the sea in South Carolina. She teaches at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Linea Nigra is from her new collection, Lovechild’s Hotbed of Occasional Poems, forthcoming in 2020.